Tiny Wisdom: When Other People Won’t Change

“I’ve discovered that you can’t change people. They can change themselves.” ~Jim Rohn

We all want to be loved and accepted, just as we are. We want people to honor our interests, value our needs, and respect our choices in life.

So why, then, do we expect other people to sacrifice theirs for us?

Why do we hope people will change their goals, habits, and values to better align with ours when they haven’t given us any indication they’d be happier for doing it?

Sometimes we think we know what’s best for others, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll likely realize we want people to change when we simply don’t feel satisfied being in a relationship with them as they are.

I’m not talking about people who are violent, dangerous to themselves and others, or in any way abusive. No one should ever feel bound to an unhealthy situation by the ideas of unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m talking about the boyfriend who isn’t as open-minded as you. Or the girlfriend who doesn’t value fitness like you. Or the husband who isn’t as social as you. Or the wife who doesn’t take risks like you.

I spent most of my twenties dating people who were completely incompatible with me.

I got involved with stoic men hoping they’d become more sentimental. I pursued self-professed bachelors hoping I’d be the one to make them want to commit. I even dated men who said they never wanted kids, hoping they’d change their minds because I did.

And why? Because those were the men who were there, and it felt safer to be with the wrong men than leave and risk not finding the right one.

Relationships are all about compromise, and there’s no such thing as a perfect match.

But we owe it to ourselves to recognize what’s non-negotiable in relationships so we don’t end up resentfully sacrificing our needs while secretly hoping the people we’re with will make it worth our while.

The people we want to change—there are others out there who’d accept and even value them, just as they are. We can appreciate them for all their unique quirks, interests, and preferences. Or we can set them free and create the possibility of finding better matches.

We deserve to be happy in our relationships. That starts with choosing to be with people we’d never want to change.

Photo by mind on fire

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • I think this doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships.

    Sometimes, we have family members who we want to change.

    We want them to be more responsible, kinder, to work harder. I guess this is where the difficulty comes in, because unlike boyfriends we can leave behind, our family is, well, forever.

    We can’t just find anybody to replace them.

    Admittedly, until now, I’m still hoping to change the way certain family of mine are. But I also realized that to change them, I have to change myself first.

    I’m not perfect, but I can set an example.

    Then, again, easy to say, hard to do. It’s a work in progress.

  • I agree that we need to accept others for “how they are” rather than trying to mold them to suit our needs–perceived or real–which usually breeds distrust and resentment on both sides.  I find that it helps in all my relationships to focus on the things that I “appreciate” about people, rather than the things that may annoy me.   In short, I try to let go of trying to change or control others.   In romantic relationships, I refer to this as “losing” love control, and “finding” romance and intimacy.


  • There’s a podcast I listen to about dating/relationships by Dan Savage and one thing he mentions a lot is what he calls “price of admission.” Which is to say, these are the things that you absolutely require from a partner or the things a partner absolutely requires from you to have a relationship. Everything else is compromise-able. I think that is the same concept as: “But we owe it to ourselves to recognize what’s non-negotiable in relationships so we don’t end up resentfully sacrificing our needs.” It’s very important to know your own “price of admission” or those things that are non-negotiable, and after that, relax and love each other for who we all are.

  • Tshadi Mokoena

    This is what I need to hear, but not happy to accept.

  • JamesSimon

    Not only can people change themselves, but they have to WANT to change themselves.

  • I think we spend way too much time trying to change other people and not enough time understanding where they are coming from and accepting them for who they are.  It’s hard enough to change ourselves.

    My mother is fond of saying that as we age we don’t change we simply become more of what we already are. 

    So if you are hoping for someone to change…think again.  And as you say, Lori, perhaps it’s better to simply let go and move on.

  • Andrea

    Good post, good reminder; though it can occur that one’s spelled out ‘non-negotiable’ becomes reneged on or disrespected by the other…disappointing then. 

  • Been There, Done That

    “I’m not talking about people who are violent, dangerous to themselves and others, or in any way abusive.”  Oh, I think that these situations need to be included as well.  You still can’t change them.   

  • I love what you wrote here: “I’m not perfect, but I can set an example.” It’s somewhat like Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There have definitely been times when I’ve wanted family members to change. It helps me to remember how *I* respond when other people tell me how to be. I’m generally less responsive than when they model it themselves.

  • Good point! My intention was to express that there are certain things we may not want to accept in relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should always leave people when they’re struggling–but we shouldn’t feel like we need to stay in unhealthy situations because we’re giving unconditional love.

  • I see what you mean. We inevitably grow in relationships, and sometimes what we want changes. I’ve known people who originally both wanted to start a family, or quit their jobs and travel the world, only to find one of them changed their minds. That’s a tough situation, because ultimately we need to decide what we’re willing and able to sacrifice and what we’re not.

  • That’s so true what you wrote–about how hard it is to change ourselves. Change isn’t easy when we want to do it; why do we expect to change other people when they don’t? I love your mother’s saying. She sounds like a wise woman!

  • I love that concept of “the price of admission.” It really puts into perspective which things matter, and which things aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

  • Beautiful Danny! I think appreciation is one of the most fundamental building blocks of healthy, happy relationships. I know when I take the time to honor all the things I value about my boyfriend, I’m less likely to fixate on little things that might bug me. I also appreciate it when he lets me know he appreciates me!

  • “So why, then, do we expect other people to sacrifice theirs for us?”

    Because we did it, in turn or first, for them. It’s amazing how radically we can change on a whim of love, thinking we are doing it to be a part of something greater…the relationship, the entity created by two.

    Many of us fall into the old trap of thinking that two halves (persons) create a whole. Not so. Laboring under that misconception, we mold ourselves into another hoping to create something complete. If you find yourself giving up or taking on more than you would individually, then you may be entering into co-dependency. If you do, indeed, succeed in changing another, that becomes your responsibility…not the other’s. As the adage goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  • Accepting yourself and others is a fine art!   I appreciate your reminder of how much energy is wasted trying to change others.  A first is to  *see* who people really are; often that itself is obscured by all our own hopes and fears.

  • Vineeta M

    Well what if I want to change my friend who flirts and get physical with every other girl.. Flirting is fine but physical thing? He can sleep with any girl of any shape and size and colour and Im in love with my best friend.. I really wish he changes this habit.. I don’t think thats bad.. Is it.?
    I never asked him to change but I pray for it..

  • Vineeta.. sounds like you are not really accepting your friend for who he is really is. You may want to ask yourself, why do I want to be with someone who doesn’t embody values similar to mine? Unrequited love comes to mind. Chasing after a dream is safer than finding someone you can have a real relationship with. He may not be ready to commit to anyone or want a serious relationship. No matter what his behavior… why focus on changing another… why not look for someone who has what you are looking for? Are you afraid of a man who would be ready to love you?

  • Connie

    I’ve since learned when people show you who they are…believe them. Gone are the days of staying with an ex because the sex was mind blowing, meanwhile he was into his own needs, gone are the one sided relationships that left me feeling empty and wondering, gone are the days of trying to change a man when I know deep down he is fine with himself, gone are the days of expecting my family to change.

    The good news is I have changed, changed my expectations, fine tuned my communication and listening skills, have stopped trying to change people who don’t want to be changed. No longer a, I hanging on to the hope of whether the person will change or not. I realized life is way to short to be with people who don’t fit into my world nor appreciate it.

    I’m much happier with the revelation or AHA moment. I’m at peace with ky decisions and wish no harm on any individual who has been in my life but Iife is about growth and continued growth it is not to be stagnant.

  • Connie

    Hi Lori,

    I meant and have been meaning to ask you how you’re doing. Are you healing well and feeling better?

  • Pamela Jorrick

    Awesome post Lori! Knowing what is really non negotiable and what is just a matter of preference or opinion is key, and can take a lot of thought to figure out. If more people understood this at a younger age, it would probably prevent so much heartache.

  • Steve

    Wow… I needed that today too… Thanks… 🙂

  • The first sentence in your comment ( …”believe them”) is priceless! — just like Lori’s post.

  • Teresamaria

    Thank you for reminding me something that i know.I also believe that most times we actually doing the other partner a favour by ending the relationship,as i am sure they are also unhappy and like us,still hold on.I believe that one os us has to have the courage to say:We need to move on,we are causing each other a lot of damage by staying where we are.I believe that i am in that situation right now.All this”believes”believed,i am still here.Trying very hard to justify the reason,but deep down i think that once again,it all about being scared of the unknown,also knowing that it could be better.Thank you for your messages,they are one of the “highs”in my day.

  • Ar

    Completely needed this reality check, thank you. I wanted to hold onto someone hoping for change, but know deep down even though it is scary that letting go is for the best.

  • jagar

    I have read this many times over the last day and wish with all my heart I could share it with my sister who is the perfect target audience for the topic.  Not to point out her flaws with a wagging finger and a “you’re doing it wrong” but gently and as a gift to her.

    I fear it would fall on deaf ears and she would build further resentment towards me for having such audacity as to suggest she is doing herself a disservice by sacrificing her needs and non-negotiables in the interest of proving everyone wrong and making a go of an ill-fitting (mis)match.

    I can’t change her, I accept that, and I have no expectations, but I cling to the hope that she will want change for herself at some point. 🙂

  • I was actually just thinking about that Oprah quote the other day. I love what you wrote about changing yourself. It reminded me of something a therapist once told me: “You can’t change other people, but you can change how you respond to them.” This was huge for me, as it pertained to some people in my family. When I stopped trying to change people, accepted them for who they were, and then changed my response, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders!

  • You bring up some great points Mark. I think it comes from the Jerry Maguire line of thinking: “You complete me.” At first, it can sound like a beautiful, romantic idea, but it’s actually a recipe for two people to always feel incomplete–two halves of a whole, neither full in their own right.

  • I understand. It’s not something I was happy to accept when it was most relevant either.

  • I understand what you mean. I have a friend who is in a similar boat. She’s asked me for advice many times over, and in those times I’ve said something similar to what I wrote. But I know it’s not something she’s ever really able to hear. So I stopped telling her these things, and instead I wrote about it–in case it can reach someone who *is* able to hear and benefit from it!

    I hope your friend (and mine) want to make that change at some point. They both deserve to feel happy in their relationships!

  • You’re most welcome. I’m glad this was helpful to you!

  • I am doing much better–thank you! I’m feeling mostly like my old self again, though I have a bit of a cold today. I’m thrilled I can exercise again–and go on rides! My boyfriend and I are huge Disney fans, so we’re definitely going next week!

  • Thanks Pamela! I think a lot of it comes down to self-confidence. I know for me, when I sacrificed the non-negotiable things, it was because I didn’t fully believe I could attract someone who could provide everything I wanted in a relationship. For that reason, I always let the wrong men walk away from me. I clung to them until they finally broke it off, and then wondered why I didn’t find the strength to walk away first.

    Ironically, it was just weeks after I walked away from a guy who was wrong for me that I met my current boyfriend (who is a wonderful match!). It was almost as though I needed to find that inner strength before the right man could find me. At least I like to think of it that way. =)

  • You’re most welcome!

  • You’re most welcome Teresa. You brought up a great point–about doing the other person a favor. All it takes is for one person to be strong, and sometimes both are grateful for it, if not immediately, at some point down the line.

  • Thank you, Lori. I have learned that a beautiful and romantic relationship is what two caring and growing individuals create together. If one or the other becomes reticent or static the relationship “entity” itself lists and consequently sinks.

    I have always ascribed to Kahlil Gibran’s “On Marriage” (pardon the length, I feel it quite important to include it in toto):”You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.You shall be
    together when the white wings of death scatter your days.Ay, you shall be
    together even in the silent memory of God.But let there be spaces in your
    togetherness,And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
    Love one another, but make not a bond of love:Let it rather be a
    moving sea between the shores of your souls.Fill each other’s cup but drink
    not from one cup.Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same
    loafSing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be
    alone,Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the
    same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s
    keeping.For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.And stand
    together yet not too near together:For the pillars of the temple stand
    apart,And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

    ~ Mark

  • Dhammadog

    To find obstacles in your own enlightenment, only lifts you higher,,Pratice loving kindness & compassion,,,,,,for all beings

  • Dhammadog

    Drop your clutter, That which you are seeking is seeking U,,,,

  • Dhammadog

     Seriously ,Do you know what Buddha taught? Keep it Pure,,,,,Don’t be a Poser,,,,,,,

  • So true! In my last long-term relationship we often talked about selling our houses and travelling as soon as the last of the kids left the nest. The youngest wouldn’t leave the nest (too comfy) years after her graduation and the oldest had the first of three grandchildren. My ex put her roots in fresh concrete and our future [grow old together] spun on a dime. Of course, I was free to go. So I did.

    I had been investing growth dollars in a static stone.

    ~ Mark

  • Bobbie

    This is so true, in my language we have a saying : “Min jitwieled tond ma jmutx kwadru” which means who is born square will not die circle. I truly believe this, and believe that every person can be accepted as they are when surrounded by the right people. A friend tells me she is a difficult person, but to me, she is just blunt and honest, which is better than being passive aggressive. It all depends on interaction with the right people 🙂

  • Your friend is fortunate to have you in her life! I think that’s the kind of friends we all need…people who value us, just as we are. =)

  • “This is a relationship’s real purpose: to serve the mutual growth & soulful expression of each individual. @marieforleo “

    This is just too appropriate not to share. Marie tweeted it this morning.

    Caused me to think of this conversation…so I posted it [in retrospect].

    ~ Mark

  • I appreciate your perspective, Lori.

    And – we don’t always get to choose. And that can be a good thing, sometimes:

    One of the most efficient lessons in unconditional love was when I was taking care of my dying mother. There was so much in the situation that I would love to change at the time (including her, by all means :-)), or at least get away from. It was just not possible. There was just her and me. So I had to be with it, like it or not. And the only way I could be with it, and her, without going nuts over all kinds of annoying small stuff, was by embracing it, by letting it all flow through me: the impatience, the anger, the sadness, the loss, the love – everything. It became a door that I have appreciated ever since…

  • What an amazing lesson Halina. I think being with our experience, and not judging it or trying to escape it, is generally the healthiest thing we can do. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing your experience here.

  • That’s beautiful Mark!

  • I couldn’t agree more!
    My mother passed away almost 20 years ago and I’m completely at peace with that  — I really appreciate your kind words.

  • Lori,

    I researched the quote and it is from Marie’s “Make Every Man Want You”  (which is not really the crux of the book, it’s just a title). “Relationships are a spiritual opportunity for personal evolution. There is no greater arena for discovering your capacity for love, forgiveness, compassion, personal greatness and full self-expression. Nowhere else will you meet the grandest and smallest parts of yourself. Nowhere else will you confront your self-imposed limits to intimacy. Nowhere else can you forgive so deeply or love so purely. That is relationship’s real purpose: to serve the mutual growth and soulful expression of each individual.”

    I find it most appropriate here.

    ~ Mark

  • I guess that’s how age tempers our minds and our choices after being encumbered with past mistakes. It would be a great gift when we choose to have a partner, that he/she would be a match to our personality.

  • Faisal R

    Those are some wise words by Khalil! Thank You for sharing!

  • Dove

    I started reading this article for guidance about my *parents* who won’t change. I’ll be with them for a few more months before I’m off to college, but whenever I’ll see them in the future, they’ll still frustrate me then. If there’s someone I can’t shake, like my loving parents, then how should I accept them?

  • The Warden

    Lori… I’ve been reading things all over Tiny Buddha. You know what I found out? That everything on here… Is a load of BS. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe that ever in your life, you have dealt with feelings of frustration. The frustration of knowing that living for yourself is the biggest line of BS that exists in this world. People don’t want to live for themselves. People only want to impress others. If they say otherwise… They are lying out their ass. They don’t have to try to impress people because they already do because somewhere along the line during their young lives, people like you figure out what they want in life and pursue it. Unfortunately some people, like myself, was never given the opportunity in life to decide what I wanted. I had to become the father of my own brother (no incest, just the responsibilities) at the age of 9. So now that I am 22 years old… I realized that everything is shit, I know absolutely nothing about anything and get frustrated when trying to learn something new because no matter how much time I invest in something, it just ends up that I’ve been doing whatever it was I was doing, wrong the whole time. I suffer from severe social anxiety and PTSD through school bullying. I think it’s great that people think that others can change, but in reality, which is still where I live, people can’t change because the fear of acceptance is way too great. And to say that people just need to accept who they are is bologna as well. I hate everything about myself both physically and mentally. I’m short, stocky and have a face that looks like a ogre. The hair on the top of my head looks like an afro that somebody threw a match in, not to mention I’m losing it as well. My smile is gross even though I have all my teeth and they’re straight, they just don’t look right. I look more attractive angry than I do happy, but then again, who wants to be around an angry person? I have a bad skin color (grayish yellow) and on top of all the things that are physically unattractive about me, I have no talents, skills or achievements. I’ve never completed anything in my entire life because there is no point in finishing something you already know the end result to. The only people that are happy in this world are people that already have others in their lives that make them happy or make them want to be happy. Well what happens when you’re me when you don’t have a friend in the world and a family that doesn’t care about you? My family hasn’t contacted me once since I left home a year ago. It’s very depressing to go through life knowing that whatever you do will result in failure and also results in a very very lonely outcome. Did you know that being lonely is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day? That would mean I’ve smoked approximately 160,160 cigarettes in my lifetime. Think there is hope for me as well? Or do you feel like posting another article that’s a complete waste of effort?

  • The Warden

    Not to mention your picture shows an attractive blond female. That automatically makes life for you 1000% easier for you knowing that someone like you does not have to do a damned thing to be happy for everything will be given to the attractive. + being a female has an advantage that guys (especially ogres like me) don’t have and that’s called sex appeal.

  • Hi there,

    I’m so sorry for the pain you’re feeling. While I have dealt with frustration – and depression, anxiety, bulimia, self-loathing, and shame – I realize this isn’t really about me. It’s about the pain and hopelessness you’re feeling. And I can understand why you feel the way you do. You’ve clearly been handed a difficult set of life circumstances. To have that much responsibility so young, to deal with abuse from bullies, to live with PTSD – I can only imagine how difficult this has been for you.

    I know you mentioned that you have no talents, but it seems to me you could be a wonderful writer. You clearly have a lot of life experience to draw from. Have you ever considered leveraging your pain for some type of creative expression? This could also be a way to meet other people who understand the depth of your pain. Creative people often have trauma in their past; making art of some kind is there way of channeling it and making sense of it.

    I can understand why you expect failure, given how your life has gone thus far. But the past doesn’t have to dictate the future. You have your whole life ahead of you, and so much can be possible for you if you consider that things could change.

    That’s actually what helped me when I was my lowest low with bulimia. I was purging thirteen times a day, I had popped blood vessels in my eyes, my hair was following out, and oftentimes I had to lie on my floor after getting out of the shower because I was too weak to move. Having struggled with bulimia for over a decade, I couldn’t imagine life beyond it. But I told myself that it was possible to know a life not controlled by my eating disorder. I didn’t yet fully believe I could do it – but I imagined the possibility of it. And that small glimmer of hope is what pushed me to take tiny step after tiny step toward recovery.

    I do believe there’s hope for you. I don’t think overcoming your challenges will be easy, but I do believe it’s possible. Could you consider that possibility?


  • The Warden

    It’s nice of you to respond to just about everybody. It’s comforting to know that Somebody takes the time to read what others have to say. Even if they are negative. I still find it difficult to progress for meeting new people is a struggle. I find it very difficult to be myself because not only do I feel the need for everyone’s approval, but because I lost myself somewhere long ago and don’t know who I am anymore. I keep trying new hobbies, but lose interest in them as fast as they inspired me. I’ve tried modeling (like boats, cars, houses, etc.), drawing, writing, gaming, instruments… You name it (as long as it was cheap). What stops me a lot of the time from continuing these things is my impatience. It needs to come out right the first time otherwise I don’t like it. I don’t really know what clicks in the minds of others that go through the feelings I have now, but I feel like time is very very short and I’m running out of it. I want to enjoy myself, but just don’t know how. I feel like if I did what I wanted without a care of what others thought about me that in the end, I’d still be alone. All I see in my future is solitude. I wanted to have a family one day, but it seems impossible. I believe in Natural Selection and that guys like me will die off without ever passing on their genetics because society and the world finds the qualities that that man possesses is irrelevant to the evolution of the species. I don’t know what I can do to change who I am. I don’t know how to think happy when everything seems pointless since the end result to everything I do will be the same. The end result being me never meeting another person and establishing a relationship. There’s so much more to say, but I’m such a bad writer that I don’t know how to say it.

  • I could relate to what you wrote in a big way. I’ve struggled with a lot of these same things – not knowing who I am, seeking approval, feeling impatient with new things, not being able to enjoy myself.

    Have you ever tried meditation? Yoga and meditation were both life-changing for me because they helped me get out of my head and focus on the present moment. When you’re living in the moment, everything gets easer. You’re no longer dwelling on what people think, analyzing what’s wrong, or worrying about the future. You’re simply experiencing what’s in front of you and seeing it with clear eyes.

    I know it may seem like an overly simplified solution to so many complex problems, but it’s amazing how life changes when you change what’s going on in your mind.

  • Tim Howan

    Thanks for this piece you’ve shared. It is a great re-calibrator for me…even with 20 days until our 20th Anniversary. It is appreciated, and I’ve book’d it to review often, from now on!

  • Tim Howan

    And yet, in my sadness that so much of this mirrors my own misguided, but sincere, ‘efforts’ — I feel a joy that it is only some of my choices that have stunted my relationships, but not the entirety of myself that has done so. Not a lot of ‘all-or-nothing’ or ‘only-this versus only-that’ in any reality that we share with anyone beyond ourselves… but I think my bad habits included (I mean ‘include’) assuming that I was sharing everything I could, like some mammoth buffet, but ‘neglecting’ to invite anyone else to the inner-life I so jealously shielded for so long, and from so many…and then I internally blamed the “Guests of Highest Honor” that I had never invited to the Party.

  • Black Bart

    I’ve dealt wit this dynamic with my mother for 20 years. Her and I have had a poor relationship and the fault is on both sides. I am married, own a nice home, have a loving, brilliant spous, we both have great jobs… it’s the whole package. We shouldn’t spend our time around someone who is going to be loud, belligerent, and rude. Being around my mother brings out the worst in me all the time amd despite countless efforts to change things, it’s time to throw in the towel. My wife and I agreed that we wont be going to my mother’s house to visit nearly as often, probably only if she has an emergency because the truth is, social gatherings with her always turn into nasty fights. She’s a 66 year-old functioning alcoholic whose husband, friends, doctors and children have begged to get treatment for years. It’s never gonna happen. It’ll be sad to watch slip into a booze-fueled dementia, but that’s going to be a result of her choices. My wife and I will have a little one soon and I’ll be damned if my precious child will be exposed to his or her drunk, angry grandmother. We’re colleged educated people. Our lives are not supposed to be an episode of Honey Boo Boo in nice suburbs. I have to accept that this situation will not get better. I have to focus on my wife and my family. There’s nothing I can do. Ive tried it all. 20 years is long enough to try and make a fucked up relationship work. I deserve a medal or to be locked up in the loony bin… either one.